Article of the week: Learning to rely on God
11 September 2021
Hannah Carr (Norwich Citadel) takes an honest look at her university experiences during the past year and explains how God has given her fresh hope for the future
FOR the whole world, this past year has been incredibly difficult. I would argue that it has been especially tough on university students, as we were left to navigate our studies and place everything on hold with what felt like significantly less guidance than the rest of the world.
I would further argue that it has been even harder on Christian university students, as many of us who already had our faith shaken by university faced it being shaken once more. Because of this, I cannot lie and say that my experiences as a student in this past year have been easy, even with God by my side.
I am studying history at Royal Holloway University. When the pandemic hit I was stranded in my halls of residence for two weeks, suffering with what I thought was tonsillitis but was very likely to have been Covid-19. By that point my studies were up in the air, and there were seemingly no plans for online church or the Christian Union. Uncertainty surrounded me and, as someone who despises change, that scared me.
As the months progressed I inevitably struggled. My exams were held online and my tutors were unable to give sufficient support. After adjusting to living independently, I was forced to re-adjust to living at home. And, like many, my mental health took a real turn for the worse. Church was also based online, and I was so blessed to have both Norwich Citadel and Staines Corps provide an abundance of online resources. Yet I struggled to engage in a way that wasn’t purely social.
In September, just before the start of my second year, new guidance was released for students and schools, but universities were forgotten. Schools and colleges received extra support and funding and children were praised to high heaven for powering on and continuing with school.
While all this was undoubtedly deserved, it was happening at the same time that universities were being ignored and students were being unjustly blamed for spreading coronavirus, all while continuing to pay their tuition fees of £9,500! Nevertheless, my second year progressed in the form of pre-recorded lectures – during which distractions were all too tempting – and seminars in the form of video meetings on Microsoft Teams, where it was hard to maintain focus.
Like many of my peers, I spent the year moving between my university accommodation and my family home, eventually choosing to spend the whole of the second term at home. It was an impossible choice: deciding whether to sacrifice my independence by isolating with my family back home, or to stay in my student house where I could be more focused but felt extremely lonely, despite living with four housemates.
If you had asked me in February last year how my faith was, I would have answered with confidence that it was strong. I loved going to church, I loved worshipping God, I was heavily involved in the Christian Union at university and I had a real passion for The Salvation Army. Music and summer schools, both regional and territorial, were the highlights of my year. I would reach a spiritual high afterwards, even though that would die down after a few weeks.
Looking back, after a year when everything I relied on was impossible, I realise I was thriving through my church life but lacked a relationship with God. Even throughout all this past year’s struggles I did not turn to God for help, which was testament to my distance from him. This wasn’t necessarily because I didn’t want to reach out to him – more that I didn’t know how.
Part of me thought that my problems were insignificant – that there was too much going on in the world for God to worry about how I couldn’t concentrate in lectures. Or I felt lonely and worried about the future. But this summer, during a summer school that I was so blessed to be able to attend, God spoke to me clearly. He reminded me of his deep love for me and that he does care, for I have been chosen by him and placed where I am for a reason.
He has not just put me where I need to be and left me to get on with it; he is walking with me. I am frequently reminded of Isaiah 40. It speaks into my experiences so closely, which suggests that God has placed this chapter on my heart. It reminds us that the God who determines our lives and loves us so deeply is the same God who hung the stars in the sky, yet that does not mean he has no time for us. Instead, he gives strength to the weary and power to the weak at the exact moment they need them.
Now, as I look towards my third and final year of university, I feel confident in God’s plan for me. Undoubtedly, this is because God has used this year as a wake-up call of sorts for me. I have become aware of the flaws in my faith and of how much I need him. Even though it was incredibly difficult for me in the moment, God was patient, knowing what the outcome would be. He carried me towards the end goal, without my knowledge and despite my distance from him.
I intend to start this academic year afresh, with the knowledge of what it really means to depend on God. He will give me the strength that I will no doubt need and will support me as I learn to rely on him.